The past year has been a momentous one for republicans and indeed for Ireland but not always for good reasons.
While there were many ups and downs I don’t think that anyone would argue that one event cast a shadow over the entire year.
In March we lost a friend, comrade, leader and patriot when Martin McGuinness passed away.
Martin’s courage and commitment to the ideals of freedom, justice and equality saw him play a pivotal role in leading not just republicans but all of Ireland through the dark days of war to the prospect of a brighter future.
It broke his heart to step down as Joint First Minister but the actions of the DUP had left the Assembly unfit for purpose. Their continued opposition to equality, failure to live up to agreements and refusal to address concerns around corruption are the antithesis of everything Martin stood for.
If we want to honour his legacy then we must redouble our efforts in the coming year to see progressive politics take hold across the country.
This year also saw two giants of the republican movement announce they will be stepping down from their elected roles.
Gerry Adams is undoubtedly the greatest political leader of the past 50 years. Multiple times he has reshaped the political landscape in Ireland and restored Sinn Féin to its role as vehicle for positive political change in Ireland.
Fear cumasach atá tiománta agus a sheasann an fód maidir lenár gcultúr agus teanga. Táim cinnte go leanfidh an tionchar deárfach sin ar na glúinte amach romhainn.
Martin Ferris is one of the most respected republicans of a generation and has been a tireless advocate for the people of Kerry. He has been a particular source of support and assistance to me in my role on the Fisheries Committee in Europe due to his work with fishermen in his constituency.
Irish politics simply will not be the same without them but we can take comfort in the fact that, as Martin McGuinness said, “Republicans never really retire.”
It has been a tumultuous year in Irish politics. The homeless crisis continues to worsen and at this stage is nothing short of a national shame. The Government have shown not only their inability and unwillingness to tackle the issue through funding and legislation but have openly displayed their contempt for those affected by it with a series of outrageous blunders including our Taoiseach’s assertions that the crisis “isn’t that bad” or that houses starting at €350,000 are “affordable.”
The trolley crisis in our healthcare system continues to deepen while cuts to public services are stripping rural Ireland of vital infrastructure, causing chaos for commuters and seeing us slide towards privatisation.
Just three weeks ago Fine Gael and their de facto partners in Government Fianna Fail joined forces to destroy more than 80 years of Irish neutrality when they signed us up to the EU’s Pesco military framework; the thin end of an increasingly militaristic EU wedge with an EU army as its final goal.
In the north the DUP’s anti-equality agenda has kept the institutions down for a year. Acting against the clearly expressed wishes of the people on numerous issues from Marriage Equality to Brexit they continue to be a barrier to progress, prosperity and peace.
And then of course there is Brexit. A disastrous decision based on misinformation and lies, rejected by Irish voters and yet it will have a profound effect here.
I am relieved that after a year of failing to respond to Brexit in any meaningful way the Government has finally begun to comprehend the disastrous effect it will have on Ireland. While their assertion that a hard border is a red line is to be welcomed I simply cannot jump on the bandwagon of congratulating them over a deal which the British instantly dismissed, much less a deal in which the major success was merely kicking the issue of the border into phase two of the talks.
I am also deeply concerned at the numerous aspects of Brexit that have yet to even be addressed, such as the potentially devastating effect it will have on our fishing industry if key protections for Ireland aren’t implemented.
And yet there has been much to celebrate.
The people of Old Pallas showed us that communities can fight back against the Government’s assault on rural Ireland when they united to protect their post office.
After much pressure the Government has finally passed legislation officially recognising Irish Sign Language.
They have also, albeit six years late, begun the process that will allow them to finally ratify the Istanbul Convention on violence against women.
Similarly, they have finally been forced into claiming back the €13 billion in tax we are owed from Apple, although disgracefully they are continuing to challenge the decision and are putting funds into a separate blocked account while they and Apple launch appeals. But it is progress.
In Europe, Sinn Féin MEPs have been incredibly active. Despite there just being four of us we have managed to secure key protections for the Good Friday Agreement in the Brexit negotiations and an EU recognition of the special position Ireland holds in the Brexit process.
The proposals we made a year ago arguing for Special Status for Ireland are now regarded as the only workable, sensible solution to the border issue.
This year I will be bring delegations from both the Fisheries Committee and the Budget’s Committee to Ireland and indeed to Cork to allow people here to bring their concerns to them.
We continue to resolutely oppose any moves towards the militarisation of the EU or EU encroachments on Irish sovereignty.
As a member of the Budget’s Committee my main goal has been to ensure the EU uses its considerable funds to create social change and to support SMEs, co-operatives and social enterprises.
My key priorities for the 2018 Budget were the creation of sustainable economic growth, decent, stable and high quality jobs, socio-economic integration, migration and our humanitarian obligations as well as addressing climate change.
Coupled with this is the need for specific measures to support countries, particularly Ireland, from the potentially devastating effects of Brexit.
I have used my role on the Fisheries Committee to champion the cause of Irish fishermen, pushed to the edge by generations of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail neglect and now facing total annihilation as Brexit looms.
It has fallen to Sinn Féin to protect coastal communities from the effects of Brexit. These are many but in particular I would point to the existential threat posed to our indigenous industry by the prospect of boats displaced from British waters post-Brexit simply making the short trip into already saturated Irish waters.
These boats include highly destructive supertrawlers which offer nothing to our economy, damage our industry and must be banned.
Recently was able use my role on the Culture and Education Committee to include amendments to bills on addressing the issue of social exclusion, safeguarding natural and cultural heritage, traineeships and apprenticeships and participation by young people in the policy-making processes.
Outside of my committee roles I have also been proud to take numerous delegations over from Ireland to the European Parliament.
In February I brought a delegation of fishermen to meet with the group that advises the European Commission on stock sustainability.
In October I brought a delegation of community and local development groups to meet with the European Court of Auditors and the European Commission to discuss issues with LEADER funding. They were told in no uncertain terms that problems with LEADER funding getting to communities was solely because of needless, and in my view, deliberately impenetrable, Government bureaucracy.
Perhaps most importantly of all, in November I took a delegation of child abuse survivors from the VOCADs group to the European Parliament to highlight the Irish Government’s failure to address their case.
This is just a small sample of the work that has been done over the past year and while there has been a lot done there is much, much more to do.
In 2018 I and my Sinn Féin colleagues will continue to be guided by the principles of freedom, justice and equality, the principles of Martin McGuinness, as we take on yet more issues on your behalf both at home and abroad.
An Ireland of equals IS possible. A social Europe IS possible. In 2018 we will continue to fight for these goals on your behalf and hope we can count on your support to do so.
Athbhliain fé mhaise daoibh
Liadh Ní Riada
Ireland South MEP